Metro Weekly

Arizona Republican backtracks after criticism for banning LGBTQ topics from sex ed classes

Sylvia Allen says her bill is being misinterpreted, but she will make clear that it does not prohibit discussions about homosexuality

Arizona State Sen. Sylvia Allen – Photo: Facebook.

An Arizona Republican lawmaker says she will amend a bill she introduced after receiving blowback for removing homosexuality from a list of sexual behaviors that could be discussed in sex ed classes.

State Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) initially introduced the bill with the intent of prohibiting sexual education from being discussed in elementary and middle schools until children reach seventh grade.

Under both the original and the revised bill, health education would be allowed for younger children, but teachers would be discouraged from talking about sex-related topics in the classroom.

A provision in the bill would also allow students or parents to sue a school district or charter school operator if such topics were broached with younger students.

The bill would also promote the state’s embrace of abstinence-based education.

Critics of the bill say Allen and other Republican lawmakers are trying to spark outrage among parents who are wary of a hypothetical situation where young children might be exposed to sexually explicit material in classrooms, reports The Arizona Capitol Times.

Arizona Democrats, for their part, plan on introducing legislation that would require schools to teach age appropriate, but comprehensive and “medically accurate” sex education, with parents being able to “opt out” by having their children removed from class when such sexual topics are being discussed.

But what attracted the most criticism was that, in introducing her bill, Allen removed the word “homosexuality” from the definition of “sexual conduct” that could be discussed in sex ed classes in schools. That led to accusations that Republicans were trying to reverse a bill passed last year that repealed the state’s “no promo homo” law.

“No promo homo” laws, which exist in a handful of conservative states, gag teachers and administrators by expressly forbidding them from discussing LGBTQ issues in positive or even neutral language, if at all (though such discussions are typically discouraged altogether).

Critics of such laws say it discourages discussion of health issues such as HIV prevention and safe sex; singles out LGBTQ students for moral disapproval or condemnation; and can even allow anti-LGBTQ bullying or harassment to fester because teachers are more concerned with keeping their jobs than putting a stop to the abusive behavior, lest they be accused of “promoting” homosexuality. For these reasons, and others, Arizona repealed its law last year.

But Allen told Phoenix-based NBC affiliate 12News that she will amend the bill, which is scheduled for a hearing next Tuesday, so that it no longer bans discussions of homosexuality in sex ed classes. She said that various media outlets were “misinterpreting the language” of her bill and would clarify its intent.

Allen did not explain why he bill removed “homosexuality” from the list of appropriate topics for sex ed classes in the first place.

“Several news outlets have reported that my bill to provide parents more access and information on sexual education courses also prohibits the inclusion of homosexuality as part of any chosen curricula, Allen said in a statement. “They are misinterpreting the language. That was absolutely not my intention.

“I regret that it has diverted attention from the main goal of the bill, which is to assist parents with more access and transparency, so that they could make informed decisions about the health and welfare of their children,” she added. “I will post an amendment today that removes the provision that has raised concerns. With this clarification, I aim to return the conversation on this bill back to my original intent — to provide meaningful opportunities for parents to engage and be contributory on this very important issue.”

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